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Kobayashi Leads Frantic Opening Hour After Early Caution

LMP2 crash brings out first FCY at Daytona as Kobayashi fights to the front overall…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Kamui Kobayashi led a frantic opening hour of the Rolex 24 at Daytona that concluded with the first full course caution of the contest after an accident for the Era Motorsport Oreca 07 Gibson.

Action Express Racing Cadillac driver Kobayashi seized the lead from Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais with a lunge down the inside at Turn 6.

The reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans winner then extended the gap to four seconds until Dwight Merriman went off under braking on entry to the Turn 6 left-hander 45 minutes into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener.

A corner marshal behind the spot where Merriman hit the tire barriers has been taken to a local hospital for further evaluation but has stable, vital signs, according to an IMSA spokesperson.

The caution stemming from the accident resulted in a second round of stops for the DPi field after a bout of green flag services on the half-hour mark.

Wayne Taylor Racing’s Filipe Albuquerque started the race from pole but lost his lead on the first lap to Tristan Vautier in the JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Kobayashi, who also got past Albuquerque in the opening exchanges, found a way past Vautier at Turn 2 as the DPi runners hit the GT traffic for the first time.

A charging Bourdais reached second before the DPi cars made their first pit stops, and emerged from the pits ahead of Kobayashi until the Japanese driver fought back ahead.

After the caution pit stops, Kobayashi led from Vautier, Bourdais, Albuquerque and Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

Ben Keating paced the first hour in LMP2 after fast-starting John Falb was bumped off the lead by a drive-through for jumping the opening green flag.

The class lead then changed as High Class Racing brought Dennis Andersen out ahead of the Thomas, while Keating’s PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca dropped a few places due to a driver change.

The GTD Pro and GTD front-runners were mixed in the opening 60 minutes as drivers jostled for early track position.

Mathieu Jaminet worked his way to the front of the Pro class in the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, while Jon Miller took charge in GTD for McLaren squad Crucial Motorsports and even led the GT field overall at one stage.

Jaminet kept the GTD Pro upper hand through the caution period with WeatherTech Racing’s Julien Andlauer and TR3 Racing’s Rolf Ineichen close behind the Frenchman.

Jarett Andretti controlled the early stages of the LMP3 class race from pole in the No. 36 Ligier JS P320 Nissan, but dropped behind Riley Motorsports’ Gar Robinson at the caution pit stops.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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